|12 March 2007
Bones offer clues to Neolithic massacre
Bones found at an English burial site suggest it once bore witness to a massacre happened 5,500 years ago. The remains of 14 people were discovered in the 1960s, but it is only now with huge advances in the dating of human remains that scientists can say they may have met a grisly end. The bones were known to be Neolithic – late Stone Age – but the new techniques have definitively dated them to 3590-3560 BCE.
Discovered at Wayland's Smithy, a burial mound near the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, three of the people had been shot by arrows – possibly in a dispute over land or cattle. "We know one person was shot through the lower abdomen because we have found the tiny tip of a flint arrowhead embedded in their pelvic bone," researcher Michael Wysocki, of the University of Central Lancashire, said. "We also know that the bodies of two people were scavenged and partially dismembered by dogs or wolves before their remains were buried in the monument. All this new evidence suggests that the period between 3625 BCE and 3590 BCE may have been one of increasing social tension and upheaval."
The preciseness of the dating is ensured by combining radiocarbon tests with 'Bayesian statistics' – a method in which samples are studied and interpreted in their archaeological context, for example their appearance in different layers in the soil. Alex Bayliss, radiocarbon dating expert at English Heritage, said: "With this research, we can now think about the Neolithic period in terms of individuals and communities and make useful and revealing comparisons between their choices and behaviour in the remote past. This dating programme demands a revolution in our thinking about prehistory and not just that of early neolithic burial monuments in Southern Britain."
Source: Metro.co.uk (11 March 2007)
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